Imagine you’re 14 years old. You are with the kids from the neighborhood, maybe where you went to school. You have known each other a long time but you still feel awkward and different. You’re fat or have glasses or a speech impediment or weird clothes or a weird family or you’re really, really smart. Maybe you have secrets you are never supposed to tell. Maybe all of those things. All you know is that you do not fit in.
Now you all find yourself at the top of the highest building you can imagine. The view of the sky, the horizon, the landscape, are amazing, beautiful, full of promise. Your friends are happy, taking in the sights, talking excitedly about the day. You are fidgety, impatient, bored. You want to get on to the next adventure.
You try to get everyone the elevator on this top floor. “This will be awesome”, you tell them as you hand out beers as they get on. Some decide not to get on, content where they are, with what they have.
You notice there are no buttons in the elevator, no emergency stop: just a huge red down arrow and more beer, wine and alcohol than you can imagine. Every time empty one another one appears. The anticipation of where this elevator will take you is building.
The arrow turns green and it begins to descend. Your stomach does a little “flip” with the drop of a few floors. You are excited by the sudden but unfamiliar sensation. Your friends gasp, the look of fear evident. Several people throw up. The elevator stops and some get out: they’re not up for this unpredictable ride to nowhere.
You keep drinking. The door closes to continue the down. This time the drop is faster and longer. It feels like a rocket ship to center Earth. You grip the handrails to keep the momentum from hurtling you towards the ceiling. Your adrenaline surges: you are laughing with the thrill of it.
There are only a handful of you left. Another tremendous drop and a jolting stop throws someone to the floor, another person falls into a group in the corner, someone is unconscious on the floor. They are out as soon as the doors open. Now it’s only you and your best drinking buddy. Just before the doors close, she wobbles through them unsteadily, first walking then crawling. As she turns around, you see her expression turn from fear to relief.
The doors close again. You are in an endless plummet. The green arrow is blinking faster and faster with the speed of descent. You close your eyes. Your feeling of excitement has become abject fear. When you open your eyes, the elevator car has shrunken and become dark and cold.
Your heart is beating out of your chest, your head is pounding, you squirm to find a position to relieve your anxiety and pain, you are asking yourself why you are still on this DAMN ELEVATOR! Now you are screaming into the abyss: “STOP! STOP! STOP! LET ME OUT! I AM DONE!”
A soft light comes on in the elevator. It comes to a slow, soft stop. The doors open to a set of ascending stairs. You begin to climb, unsteadily at first. You can hear voices upstairs: they sound happy, they’re laughing. You stumble and suddenly someone comes to help you. You shake them off and stumble again. They reach out a hand and smile. This time you accept the help and begin to climb out of the darkness. You know you can’t do this alone.
* The title, The Elevator, is inspired by my friend Paul Churchill and his Recovery Elevator podcast, which I have been binge-listening for the past several weeks. Paul is committed not only to his own recovery, but to being of service to others and helping them with theirs. The RE podcast quickly became one of my tools to maintain my sobriety and the people around the country who I have met, personally and virtually, through Paul, inspire and motivate everyday to continue living a life of sobriety. Thank you Paul.